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It’s always great for the fans to see a local lad come through the youth ranks and get a run in the first team, and that is happened quite frequently at Northampton Town in recent years.
Northampton’s academy has produced Luke Chambers, the current Ipswich captain, Michael Jacobs, who has gone on to play for Derby, Wolves and currently Wigan and Ivan Toney, also currently at Wigan Athletic on loan from Newcastle. The next academy graduate hoping to emulate this success is local 19 year old central midfielder Shaun McWilliams.
Born and raised locally in Kings Heath, the midfielder joined the Northampton Town Academy in 2012 at the age of 14. After developing and impressing in the academy, McWilliams signed a professional contract in May 2016, at the age of just 17.
McWilliams was then sent on loan to Kings Lynn Town in August 2016 to gain first team football and develop as a player. This loan spell was incredibly successful, and McWilliams became an integral part of the Kings Lynn midfield, scoring 7 goals in 26 appearances for the Southern League Premier Division side. Several Kings Lynn fans stated that he was simply too good to be at that level, and following Justin Edinburgh’s appointment as Northampton manager, McWilliams was recalled to the side for the end of the 2016/17 season.
After Northampton had achieved survival in League One, McWilliams began to gain first team exposure, making his first appearance as a substitute away at Rochdale on April 1st, before starting away at Bury the following week. McWilliams really impressed in the 5 games he featured in at the tail end of the season, making the emergence of 18-year-old Shaun McWilliams one of the bright sparks of an albeit underwhelming season for the cobblers.
Following his form and effortless step up into the first team, McWilliams was rewarded with a 3-year contract by the club, which he signed in September 2017. McWilliams has continued his development this season has been a near mainstay for Northampton this season. Despite being left out of the squad for the season opener, McWilliams replaced Yasser Kasim as a substitute in the second game of the season at home to Fleetwood, showing the fans that he was very much part of Edinburgh’s plans, so much so that veteran Matt Taylor was allowed to leave for Swindon Town.
McWilliams’ first start of the season came during the local derby at home to Peterborough, which ended up being Justin Edinburgh’s last league game as Northampton boss. Since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s appointment, McWilliams has remained firmly a key member of the squad, being named in Hasselbaink’s first starting XI.
After a series of impressive displays and key moments, such as his run and pass through to Chris Long during the win over Portsmouth, the importance of McWilliams to the side has been emphasised. He has even impressed whilst being deployed as an emergency right back in recent games, showing his confidence, ability and importance to the side. As he continues to develop as a player both mentally and physically, bigger clubs from the further up the EFL will surely start to take an interest.
Strengths & Weaknesses
McWilliams operates as a typical combative, box to box midfielder. He possesses a great turn of pace which allows him to beat a player, and has the strength to win it back. At just 19, he can already match up to and isn’t fazed when coming toe-to-toe with more experienced midfield players. He loves a committed challenge, and often wins the ball back for the side. A negative to this is that he has accumulated three yellow cards already in such a short career.
McWilliams also possesses great versatility and has already filled several positions this season. His strength and tackling ability has seen him utilised as a holding midfielder, and his creativity and passing range has also seen him deployed in a more advanced midfield role, as his assist against Portsmouth demonstrated.
Such is the impressiveness of his performances, more experienced memebers of Northampton’s side such as Yasser Kasim, Dean Bowditch and Sam Foley have struggled to nail down regular starting spots.
One major strength is his attitude and desire to succeed, and he always gives 100%. This attitude saw him shake off a nasty looking leg gash early in the season, and as he returned he didn’t look shaky and was just as confident as he was before his injury. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is rich in his praise for McWilliams’ attitude, stating that his attitude is first class.
He has also been deployed as a makeshift right back in the last two victories over Gillingham and Blackpool, earning man of the match in the latter. As comfortable and as solid as he looked at right back, I still believe his ability to pick out a cross-field ball means that his long-term future lies in central midfield, and with a manager who likes to develop young players, it won’t be long before a host of top sides register their interest in this young midfielder.
The general consensus around Northampton Town is that Shaun McWilliams really is one for the future.
What They Say
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – Northampton Manager
“He’s not one of those young players who walks around with broad shoulders thinking he’s done everything… he just wants to work”
“I have been very impressed with Shaun ever since I arrived at the club. He is a player with a huge amount of potential”